powerful moments in education
Nothing causes you to reflect on your teaching practice more than preparing for a leave of absence.
As teachers, we know that it is nearly impossible to truly explain to world how we do what we do all day. Not “how” in the way that people mean when they say: I don’t know how you work with kids every day! but how in the sense of managing all we do in our minds. The personalities. The needs. The standards and ever-changing initiatives. The 4 different activities for 5 different subjects. Every day. And don’t forget the energy needed for our stage presence to engage!
For years, I imagined that preparing for maternity leave would be an extremely challenging task and that turning over the classroom to a stranger would be somewhat traumatizing for myself and my students (ok, maybe not traumatizing…that’s slightly dramatic, but you follow me). Lucky for me, I was able to score a great teacher with elementary experience who has substituted in our school for years. HUGE bonus! Her familiarity with my students, colleagues, and nuances of the building left room for me to spend the time on what was really important to me: passing on the information she would need about the students, our classroom community, expectations, and the the curriculum.
And then…how to organize all of this for her? How to make it collaborative to provide space for support, questions, and her own creative additions? And equally as important, how could I maintain the relationship with my students and connection to their learning since I will return as their teacher next fall in the second year of our loop?
Whether you are working with a known colleague for this “substitution” or with a complete stranger, the following tools have made me feel that the planning, transition and experience were efficient and effective.
This was the first tool that came to mind when I knew I needed a way to organize for their new teacher. By creating shared folders, she had access to pertinent files and could comment or ask me questions connected right to the items within the document. Since students used Google Docs through shared files from my own account, I could not only easily share their earlier writing with the new teacher but also follow their continued writing process once I left the classroom. My baby was 8 days late and I left work 10 before I was even due, so reading and collaborating with my students via Google Docs kept us feeling connected during a time when they were transitioning and I was (im)patiently awaiting the birth.
I wanted my students to continue to access the digital tools that had become a part of the classroom, as well as continue to have access to interactives that would support their learning. By creating Live Binders of these links, the new teacher could easily access the links or add her own. Binders of fraction interactives, science research sites, and other standard-specific links were organized for classroom use.
Of course! This tool makes an appearance in all of my technology and collaborative resource posts. Before my leave began, the new teacher took an Edmodo webinar so she could be “in the know” with how my classroom functions beyond the brick-and-mortar building. She was able to continue communication, link sharing, and Google Doc sharing using Edmodo. Since her cell phone plan did not support unlimited texting, we could post inquiries and responses to each other via Edmodo, as they would arrive to my phone just like a text message.
Furthermore, my students and I could continue to connect. I frequently post pictures and videos of the baby, who they witnessed growing from the outside since 10 weeks gestation. Their continued online activity is visible to me and they let me know how things are going in the classroom. If you are the type of teacher that just wants a bit of connection to school while you are home, Edmodo will do that for you.
Before my leave, my newsletter-type communication with parents was via Blogger. The new teacher was able to read past posts to really get an idea of what the flow of the classroom had been like. By adding her as a contributor, parents had seamless and familiar mode of communication regarding the curriculum and classroom happenings. I also enjoy the updates, hearing how children are progressing with curriculum topics, and learning of the creative ideas that their current teacher is bringing to life in the classroom.
I did not end up doing this for her since we ended up gaining sufficient time to meet before my leave. However, this is typically not the case for most leaves! Many maternity substitutes are literally thrown into the school and classroom with very little idea of the wheres, whos, whats, and whens. Creating short tour videos, expecting teachers could provide the new teachers with a visual resource that “tours” them through the classroom. Where is the tissue paper kept or other supplies for an awesome arts-based project? Where are the manipulatives for fractions? How is the classroom library organized? What does a typical morning routine look like for the students upon arrival? What does Morning Meeting look like?
Because of these tools, I am able to relax at home with my baby and focus on her, knowing that quality instruction is continuing in the classroom. While sometimes I feel as though I may be missing out on some activities that I love sharing with students, I never feel like the students are missing out on any part of their 3rd grade year. They gained a unique experience- watching my baby grow and and adapting to a new teacher, all within 10 months.
The final piece of advice I have for teachers preparing to go on leave is non-technology related. Notice that I rarely, if ever, refer to the new teacher as a “sub”. There is no long-term substitute for the classroom teacher that the students have come to know. There is, however, a new teacher in the classroom who is creating his/her own bond with the students. By never referring to her as a sub to my class, I believe they accepted her as their teacher, not just a warm body with no expectations who would be taking my place until August. Both myself and the students had to transition to a new teacher entering our community. What a positive experience of learning to detach and adapt for us all!
With so many women in this profession, maternity leaves are a significant element of the year for countless students. Please pass this post on to any expecting teachers you might know, building principals looking to support maternity “substitutes”, or other teachers who might be taking a leave of absence for any other reason.
Have other tools that made your leave successful? Please share in the comments below.